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Russia: Helsinki Commission Releases Report On Human Rights

  • Andrew Tully

The U.S. Helsinki Commission has published its latest annual report on human rights in Russia. At a hearing marking the release, witnesses urged the U.S. to help Russia improve its record in this area. They say it is important to show Moscow that improved human rights would serve the country's self-interest. RFE/RL correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 20 September 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Advocates for improved human rights in Russia say the U.S. should increase pressure on Moscow to improve the rule of law. But they stressed that Russia should not be treated as an "outcast."

The human rights advocates made the plea Tuesday at a hearing of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. At the same hearing, the panel -- also known as the Helsinki Commission -- released its latest annual report on human rights in Russia.

The report consisted of evaluations of human rights in 60 of Russia's 89 districts. The panel's chief of staff, Dorothy Taft, noted that this year it was able to report on twice as many regions as it did in 1999.

The document cited violations of human rights ranging from infringement on freedoms of speech and the press; corruption in judicial courts; limitations on religious liberty; poor prison conditions; and cruel treatment of children.

The information was gathered by private, non-governmental organizations in the 60 regions and compiled by the Moscow Helsinki Group.

The report did not summarize its findings, and gave no indication whether the evidence shows that the central government in Moscow -- or the regional governments -- are improving their human rights records.

But the document did pay particular attention to the war in Chechnya. It urged the Russian government to end what it called "deliberate murders, disappearances, and arbitrary and illegal detention of people," and demanded an end to the military campaign. It also sought justice for soldiers who commit atrocities, and it urged that refugees from the region be treated fairly.

One witness at Tuesday's hearing was Ludmilla Alexeyeva, a founding member of the Moscow Helsinki Group, and now its chairwoman.

The other witnesses were Micah Naftalin, the national director of the Union of Council of Soviet Jews, and Viktor Lozinsky, a human rights activist in the Russian province of Ryzan, about 100 kilometers southeast of Moscow.

At one point during the hearing, a questioner asked Lozinsky what role the U.S. should play in helping Moscow improve its human rights record. The administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton has been repeatedly accused by its opponents in Congress of ignoring problems like official corruption and human rights abuses in Russia. Clinton and his aides have responded that they believe it is important to "engage" Russia rather than to antagonize it.

Lozinsky apparently agrees. In his response to the questioner, he said he did not want to presume to tell the U.S. government how it should conduct relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. But he said whatever Washington decides, it is important for Americans to work with Russians, not against them.

"Yes, let's work together by all means, but let's not make Russia an outcast. This would be very bad for the entire world."

Micah Naftalin -- the national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews -- agreed, and amplified on Lozinsky's suggestion. He told the commission that it is important to show the Russian government that respect for human rights is important for the country's self-interest.

"The cost to their economy of the human rights abuses -- whether it's the terrible jails or whether it's the environmental safety or the pollution issue -- all of human rights issues have the other side. Notably that it would improve their country if they would work on them for their self-interest as well as for the human rights issue."

Naftalin accused the U.S. government of not emphasizing human rights enough in its relations with Moscow. He recalled that during the Soviet era, Washington led the West in pressing the communist leadership vigorously on human rights. As a result, Naftalin said, there was "tremendous improvement" in the Soviet Union's human rights record.

He says the U.S. has dropped the human rights issue in its relations with Russia. Naftalin says Washington today appears to believe -- wrongly -- that America's national security is dependent only on weapons and nuclear proliferation and similar issues.

"It's also dependent on the ability to encourage Russia and the other countries of the Soviet, the former Soviet Union, to create an environment of law and human rights and environmental safety that will contribute to the strength of their country, the rights of their people and the economic viability of their country. And that is absolutely -- almost absolutely -- missing from the priorities of our bilateral relationship today."

U.S. Helsinki Commission spokesman Ben Anderson says the panel does not issue regular human rights reports on other former Soviet republics or former Warsaw Pact members. But he says it does issue human rights evaluations on these countries as the information becomes available.